China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation Review

China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation
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China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation ReviewXinran traveled across China in 2005-06 seeking out the men and women who had experienced the vast changes of the modern era. She tells the stories of 20 ordinary people, average age in their 70's.
Unfortunately, the information volunteered by these people is limited - partly because of their likely lack of broader knowledge, and mostly due to cultural reticence. As early as the second millennium B.C., a Chinese criminal's family was punished as harshly as the criminal himself. Around 100 B.C. the people were grouped in units of 5 and 10 households, carrying out mutual surveillance and mutually responsible for each other's conduct. In the case of minor offenses, the criminal's family would be exterminated to between 3 - 5 degrees of association; with serious offenses this was extended to 9 - 10. This principle remained a mainstay of the Chinese judicial system until 1911, and also gave rise to powerful traditions of clan loyalty and fear of speaking out openly that is still an inhibition today.
Even media in today's China base reporting in line with this fear. Interviewees are often "led" to follow the central ideology of the party and to express personal views defined by these principles.
Thus, Xinran's accounts from those in the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, the Long March, etc. is not able to convey the immensity of these tragedies.
Notheless, some of the interviews were of particular interest. One first involved a teacher at a Gobi Desert construction/military site. She received no raises for 30 years, supervised self-study until 11 P.M., and sometimes helped the children home during severe weather. Desks were made from mud covered with straw.
Altogether, incredible indicators of internal strength and stoicism. However, for broader perspectives I recommend "Mao," by Jung Chang, and "Chinese Lessons," by John Pomfret.China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation Overview

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